Ground-shaking blasts cut through the night air. Sometimes they’re so distant you can count the time from when they flash in the sky to when you hear the report. Other times, they’re so close they set off every car alarm on the long avenue. These blasts come every two to three minutes. In between, there are strings of rapid-fire teeth-rattlers, some lasting as long as a minute.

This isn’t the Chinese New Year. This is only the night before. This is just the eighteen million people of central Beijing clearing their throat for what I suspect will be the loudest holiday on the planet. The occational smell of burnt gunpower that permeated the early evening has become, by no later than nine, a thick blanket over the entire city.

Fireworks stands on every block are open late, and they all have lines. Children barely able to walk clutch paperback-sized packets of fireworks. Grown men smugly haul eighteen-inch discs of double stands that could just as easily be the spare tire of a mid-sized car wrapped in red paper. Others have enormous single-shots, the size of the waste basket in my office, that require a cart to lug them home.

There’s not much imagination to the Chinese fireworks, they flash and make noise and that’s about it. But they’re good at what they do, and anyway, I always find myself disappointed by fireworks that claim to do more.

And should one ever be called upon to rework the star-spangled banner, they need to no more research than spend a sleepless night on the eve of the Chinese New Year.